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The Middle

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Reflections inspired by a recent milestone birthday.

“The middle is messy but it’s also where the magic happens.” -Brené Brown

My belly is soft, but my heart is full.
My mind is scattered, sometimes forgetful, but focused.
I care less about what people think.
In fact, I care less about a lot of things.
And a lot more about a few.
There’s more weight. But there’s more lightness. More joy.
It often feels like a paradox.
This living in the middle.

There’s both struggle and ease.
A foot in both places.
I’m becoming older ( and wiser?) while experiencing the wonders of childhood again.
It feel like I’m growing both older and younger at the same time.
I’m growing more into myself.
Life seems bigger and smaller.

This lovely space in the middle, where I can see behind me and in front of me.

I feel tougher, stronger, but also more open and exposed.
Little moment catch me off-guard.
Tears come more easily. But so do smiles and laughter.
Life feels precious.
The magic of the middle.

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What I Learned in Kindergarten the Second Time Around

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I haven’t posted in awhile.  Our family was plagued with multiple illnesses over the last 6 weeks, and with both parents juggling careers, our household has gone through some moments of chaos, exhaustion and well…ugliness (But as my son would readily remind me, we’ve had lots of opportunities to use the “life skill of flexibility”).  Finally, after various bouts of strep throat, stomach bugs and bad colds, we seem to all be healthy. And I am thankful for it and feeling particularly grateful for my kids’ general good health.  Throughout this period, I’ve been reminded of the wisdom of Glennon Melton’s concept of carpe kairos (appreciating moments, rather than days) when raising young kids.

During one round of stomach bug, while I sat on the bathroom floor with my daughter, not sure which end the “illness” was going to come pouring out of next, I learned a lesson about the power of stories.  She was so distraught and upset.  Nothing would comfort her…not even the iPad.  Yes folks, she was TOO SICK TO PLAY THE IPAD.  The only thing she wanted was to sit on my lap and have me read her books.  So there we were, surrounded by towels, a big metal bowl and a stack of books. I think a lot about the power of stories in a professional context, but this experience was a sweet (if not sweet-smelling) and necessary reminder of the comfort and connection that stories provide.

And in the midst of all this, my son graduated from kindergarten!  He is going to be a “grader”, as he so reverently calls it. This is wonderful and exciting but I am feeling some sadness and nostalgia.  No doubt it’s about my first born growing up. Perhaps it’s because I’m a little misty-eyed after watching (again) the beautiful DVD his teacher, Mrs. D, created: a sweet photo montage of his class over the school year.  And I’m thinking of Mrs. D and how very, very lucky my son was to have her this year, and how lucky we are as parents to have her in our lives, too.

If you regularly read this blog, you may recall that I was quite enamored with his teacher from the first day of school and recognized she is something quite special.  But throughout the year, I’ve had the chance to observe what she does, through volunteering in the classroom periodically and through all the stories and tidbits my son shares with me.

As a parent, I have so much appreciation and admiration for all Mrs. D has taught my son and his classmates, and how those teachings will continue to shape them as they grow.  And as a leadership coach and someone interested in organizational culture, I’m fascinated by how she’s building an environment to nurture growth and learning.

What I’ve finally put my finger on is that Mrs. D’s genius comes from a beautiful combination of both bringing the world into her classroom and creating a world within the class.  Through studying art, music, science, the natural world history and current events, she creates a vibrant classroom and community, reflected by the cheery artwork and creative student projects that line the walls.  But the real magic to me is the world that Mrs. D creates with them — one where empathy comes first, where all students are really seen, where she meets them where they are and holds them up to the best versions of themselves.

Maybe this is one of those parenting moments, this deeper learning and appreciation of watching your kids grow up, this hint of nostalgia, this deeper perspective of childhood you don’t get when you’re going through it. I wish there was a word for it. It’s a mix of gratitude, reverence, and maybe some wisdom.  And I’m realizing that as my kids grow, I’m growing as a parent.

So, as the years march on and my son grows up (and I continue to grow alongside him as a parent) and some of his memories of kindergarten inevitably fade along with the stack of lovely artwork he brought home, here’s my wish for him: that he continues to embrace the world that Mrs. D created in their classroom. I wish he listens with both his head and his heart, that he always holds himself and others up to their best versions and that he remembers kindness first.

The Valentine’s Ninja

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Early training for Valentine’s ninja-ing, circa 1978

I have a conflicted relationship with Valentine’s Day. Growing up, I always associated valentines and chocolate hearts with my birthday, which is two days after Valentine’s Day. (I suppose it was harder to get excited about President’s Day.) On the other hand, I have an allergy to overpriced flowers and dinners and a day that makes a lot of people feel excluded or downright miserable.  And since having kids in daycare/preschool,  I’ve felt a little put upon with having been “assigned” to procure and sign a bunch of valentines on behalf of my kids. (Yes, I have a grinchy streak I’m not particularly proud of.)

But this year, I vowed, I was going to take Valentine’s Day back and make it something meaningful for myself.

I found inspiration in my son’s kindergarten Valentine’s Day school assignment.  Instead of mass producing a batch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles valentines, my son was charged with creating “valengrams” for his class.  On individual scraps of paper, he had to write why each class member was special.  It was a great (albeit time consuming) exercise in penmanship and time management, but more important, he had to think about something he valued in each of his classmates (i.e. you let people join your games, you help clean up messes that aren’t yours, you are kind and friendly, etc.) What an amazing skill to be developing as a kid. And the joy and pride my son felt through reading the valengrams he received was the cherry on top.

For my Valentine’s Day project, I scavenged some leftover, paper hearts tucked away in a drawer. I wrote messages on each one, like the ones below, and folded them up with “open me” written on the outside.

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Then, the real fun began.  Over the past week, I left about two dozen valentines wherever I went.  In lunchroom and cafe tables at the university where I work a few days a week.  Wedged inbetween apples at the produce section of the grocery store. At the library. The drug store. My dentist’s office.  The hearts became a trail of where I had been. And it became a game to find places to leave them where they would be discovered, but where I wouldn’t be caught leaving them.  It brought a sense of sneaky levity to my day. I even got my son in on the fun.  Running or errands or going to get lunch became a chance to leave a heart somewhere.  I felt like some sort of Valentine’s Day ninja, secretly spreading love far and wide.

I have no idea whether the hearts will be discovered. My hope is the right people will find their messages. But the act of planting anonymous valentines gave me something.  And in the process of becoming the Valentine’s Ninja, I think I reclaimed Valentine’s Day for myself.

Year End

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Photo by alicepopkorn under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

I wanted to squeeze in one final post in these last hours of 2014.  I started this blog a little over a year ago, and for anyone who knows me or follows this blog, you know I err on the reflective.  On this blustery winter day, warmed by a toasty fire and recent memories of our now annual tradition of my-dad-as-Santa celebrating each grandkid’s milestones from the year, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned (or been reminded of) this year:

Get your dreams dirty.  Don’t keep them locked up in a cabinet like your great aunt’s china. Use your dreams, try them on, wear them out.  Yes, there’s a risk in putting your dreams out in the world and a risk that they won’t look like what you pictured in your head.  Ann Patchett describes the experience of translating the stories that are in her head into words as “pinning a butterfly to the page”. It can be struggle, a letdown, even, when the words on the page pale in comparison to the vision in your head.  But the bigger risk is to not attempt to pin down the butterfly.  Don’t keep the dreams in your head forever.

Vulnerability can build powerful connections.  Sharing myself and my heart on these pages has created engagement with friends and strangers in a way I hadn’t anticipated, but am so grateful for.

Cookies are delicious, but cookie dough is tasty in its own right. I’ll admit I’m kind of a planner, so starting things when I don’t think I’m ready or don’t know where they’ll go can be uncomfortable. But this year has reminded of delight that comes with unexpectedness, of seeing where and how things develop in a way you can’t predict or plan.  And I’ve been enjoying the process, tasting the cooking dough.

Living well is a delicate balance between being and doing, between forward movement and stillness.

I’m constantly challenged by and in awe of the ever-evolving role of parenthood.  It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had but the most rewarding. Despite the frustrations and the relentlessness, there is overwhelming joy and honor in witnessing the blossoming of these little souls.  The learning never stops and it’s a magical mix of both the lofty and the everyday, from learning patience and unconditional love to throwing a football (which I’ve been learning this trip!)

And while I don’t have any resolutions nailed down right now, here’s what I’ll be trying to create more of in 2015:

  • more sharing (resources, time, food)
  • more celebrating
  • more whole & wholesome foods that nourish the body and soul
  • more quality time with friends and family
  • more dance parties
  • more laughter

Thank you for reading and being part of this journey with me this year.  I wish you more of whatever you’d like to welcome into your life in 2015!

Pinkie Toomer Day

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Nine years (+1 day) ago, Nice Tall Guy and I were officially married at a courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia by Judge Pinkie Toomer.  We were planning a wedding with friends and family the following summer, but for practical reasons (i.e. so Nice Tall Guy could take advantage of in-state tuition for the graduate program he was attending), we decided to make it official before the next semester started.

So, we have a wedding anniversary and this other day we’ve taken to calling, Pinkie Toomer Day.

I remember when we discussed whether or not to do the courthouse marriage, we were concerned it would take something away from our actual wedding day.  We wanted to downplay it so much that we didn’t tell our parents until several days afterwards, when we were out visiting for Christmas (“By the way, we went to the Courthouse last week and got married.” To which Nice Tall Guy’s Mom pragmatically replied, “I can’t believe you waited that long to do it!”)

But the funny thing was, despite our best efforts to not make our courthouse marriage a big deal, it was (and still is) a really special day.  A few thoughtful friends surprised us by attending the courthouse “ceremony”, and adorning me with a wedding veil and a bouquet of flowers.  And though I can’t remember the specifics, Judge Pinkie Toomer delivered a beautiful speech about love and commitment. Afterwards, we went to the newly-opened aquarium and then had a decadent dinner. It was lovely and special and silly and different, and just ours.

And over the years, I’ve realized that Pinkie Toomer Day’s power is in its unexpectedness. Sometimes when you’re not expecting to find meaning, joy and beauty, those moments carry the most magic.

Happy Pinkie Toomer Day to all, today and everyday.

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